While most of us have the image of Arthur pulling the sword from the stone and being declared king, in the Medieval sources he actually has to pull the sword several times over the course of about six months while the rulers of the country try to see if there is anyone else–someone who is older than fourteen–who can become the king. It is during this period that Wonderly Wroth: The Swithen Book 5 takes place.
This scene is from the beginning of the novel. Arthur has just pulled the sword earlier that day, has pulled the sword for Archbishop Dubricius, and now must pull the sword for some of the prominent kings of the day. Ector is Arthur’s foster father and Kay his foster brother.
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Dubricius stood straight and eyed the group. “Take a moment to collect yourselves,” he said. “Arthur, you will need to pull the sword again.”
Ector’s eyes flared. “Again? He pulled it. You saw it.”
“Now others must see it,” Dubricius said crisply. “The church is not the only power in this country. If we do not have the support of the kings that rule this land, we have nothing. I will wait by the door,” he said with an arc of his hand, eyes turning to Arthur. “Join me when you are ready.” He walked away after a lingering gaze.
Ector turned to face away from him. His eyes focused on the far end of the church as he took in a long breath, shoulders rising, then blew out again. He turned to the boys. “Arthur, you don’t be cowed. You’re the only one who’s pulled the sword, and you’re the rightful king. Don’t let them take this from you.”
Arthur nodded. “What makes you say they’ll take it away?”
“People like that are always taking things away,” Ector muttered. “Let’s go.” Arthur tugged the arm of Kay and they all moved down the aisle to meet Dubricius by the door. He nodded officiously and they went out.
There was now a tall tent set up over where the sword was. The light had changed, grown more yellow, shadows longer and more present as the day moved into late afternoon. Arthur blinked at the light. He felt dread in his chest.
“That pavilion was over it when we came,” Kay said.
Arthur did not reply. The streets were filled with people strolling away from the tournament, which must have been closing for the day. Arthur watched as though they existed in a different world. They moved quickly through the tombstones. The archbishop held the flap of the tent open.
The inside was still, filled with diffuse yellowish light. The shadows of three men stood behind the sword and white cube. They were attired in very fine, very clean robes of brilliant blues and scarlets, and each wore a crown on his head. The one directly at the back was in rich muted yellow robes and had shoulder-length mustard color hair, and a mustache with longish ends, giving him the look of someone important. His hair and mustache formed downward curves from forehead and nose, giving his face an exaggerated symmetry that made him look striking, an effect that seemed calculated. His eyes scanned all over Arthur, switched to Kay, then back. He must have heard a boy had pulled the sword, but not which one. He was about thirty-five, but his eyes were already sunken under blonde brows that gave him a mature, fearsome and grizzled look.
Arthur struggled to keep his face impassive. Kay and his father took places behind him.
To the blond king’s left was a smaller, squatter man. He was very wide and thick in the chest and not only did he have black hair, he had a great deal of it. His thick black beard climbed his cheeks to just under his eye, and black hairs could be seen on the back of his hands. He also wore a crown on his head. Across from him was a bald man with light beard, dressed in muted colors, features stretched into a placid smile that seemed glib and withheld warmth.
Arthur watched the face of the blond king while Dubricius stepped in and closed the tent flap behind him. He clearly seemed to be the most illustrious of the group, or held himself that way. All present seemed to defer to him. The archbishop kept his face toward the leader king until he stretched out a hand. “Arthur,” he indicated.
The expression of the three kings did not change as their eyes snapped to the boy. The hairy one looked like a wild animal and Arthur found him quite fascinating. The bald one seemed somehow unimpressive. The tall one in the center, however, was quite large and genuinely fearsome, and Arthur considered him a real, serious king—the kind he had read about.
He struggled not to look away as they scrutinized him thoroughly. A tightness between his eyes grew, second by second, as he withstood their gaze, but he forced himself to remain, if not looking into their eyes, at least their chins. The blond one noticed, but his face remained impassive. Dubricius’ moved gracefully to gesture toward him.
“This is King Lot.”
The man did not move. His posture and imperious gaze indicated that he had been held in esteem for decades. Even Arthur thought he may had heard the name before. Arthur bowed courteously. “Very pleased to meet you, sire.”
“This is King Uriens,” Dubricius said, gesturing to the bald man, who bowed and gestured obedience in a half-hearted way. “And this,” Dubricius reached his fingers across, toward the dark, hairy man, “is the King with the Hundred Knights.” Arthur nodded to both in turn.
“Now, to our business,” Dubricius barked, and reached forward to grab the sword, pulling upward. One could see his arm and shoulder flex. When he couldn’t budge it he stepped back, gesturing toward it. “King Lot,” he said.
“Let him do it,” Lot hissed. His eyes flared as he nodded toward Arthur.
Dubricius turned, fixed his eyes on Arthur, and indicated the sword.
Arthur stepped forward. He felt a light tingle his chest. The sword was incredibly shiny. He was surprised by its artistry—had he looked more carefully, he never would have touched it. He hesitated. Then he reached forward and pulled it out.
“Uh!” King Lot uttered, mouth dropping open, arms falling to his sides. The other two kings shrunk back, composure undone. Lot regained his. He straightened and clasped his arms before his chest tightly, jaw clenching, strange lumps appearing in his cheeks. His eyes widened and glared more furiously, surfaces glassy.
“Now, Arthur, please,” Dubricius gestured, “put it back.”
Arthur lowered the tip, fit it into the slit in the smooth upper white surface, and slid it back in. It left not the slightest space beside the blade. He stepped back, and felt his father’s warm hands settle on his shoulders. Kay also came close.
Dubricius gestured to the sword with a flourish of his hand. “King Lot,” he said.
The king’s face went pale. His eyes darted to the sword, up at Arthur, then to the archbishop. “After you,” he said.
“Oh, I couldn’t,” the archbishop replied. He again opened his hand over the sword.
King Lot’s shoulders reared back with a seething intake of breath. His eyes remained focused on the sword, thick eyebrows gathering as his nostrils flared. His gaze darted once to Arthur, then away. The pavilion was filled with the sound of his breath. He leapt upon the sword.
Wrapping his hand around the hilt, he pulled. Then, grasping the hilt with both hands, pulled again. His fingers curved down to wrap around the cross-guard, and he yanked. The sword did not budge. He let go, stomped away, then whirled back, pointing at Arthur.
“What did you do?” he seethed.
Arthur heard his father take in a breath to yell, but Dubricius put a hand between them. “King, please,” he said evenly. “He is just a boy.”
“And we cannot have a boy for our king!” he shouted.
“Uriens?” Dubricius asked. The bald king stepped forward and pulled lightly. “King?” the archbishop said to the King with the Hundred Knights. The small, hairy man reached forward and pulled. Dubricius again turned to King Lot. “Should they do it?” His fingers opened toward Ector.
“No!” shouted Lot.
“Please, we must see.” He indicated Ector, who stepped from behind Arthur and gave it a good jerk upward. His dull coat and dusty clothing compared poorly to the kings.
“I can’t budge it at all,” he said loudly.
Dubricius indicated Kay. Lot scoffed. The boy stepped up, pulled it, and stepped back, shaking his head. “Doesn’t move for me, either!”
King Lot would not meet his gaze, but stood, arms wrapped around himself and clutching tightly, jaws visibly grinding together. At last he exploded.
“We cannot, I—this country—cannot be ruled by a child!”
Dubricius remained unmoved. He nodded silently, turned away, looked at Uriens. “And you? King Uriens?”
“You must admit it is highly unusual,” said the king’s nasal voice. His nervous eyes darted to King Lot for approval.
“It is highly unusual,” Dubricius said crisply. “Does that mean it cannot happen?”
“Well,” Uriens’ head seemed to shrink within his shoulders, “is there really no one else?”
“Maybe it means whoever can pull the sword but is also the right age,” offered the King with the Hundred Knights.
“Perhaps it does,” Dubricius nodded, gesturing to the sword. “But it doesn’t say that. It says only, as you see,” he pointed to the inscription on the cube, “that he who can pull the sword shall be the king. And in fact, no one else, of any age, has been able to pull it.”
“Put it off until Candlemass,” Lot blurted. “We can bring,” his eyes darted once toward Arthur, “anyone else in to try it. Anyone who has not yet tried.”
“In fourteen years,” Dubricius added.
“And we can also,” Lot shook his head, eyes lowered but staring at nothing, “have time to adjust to,” he paused, “what it might mean.” His expression was grim.
Dubricius hung still, thought. Abruptly he straightened. “Candlemass,” he said. “One month. I can agree to that. We will need time to prepare.”
Lot’s face fell into a troubled composure, although he still scowled.
Ector came forward. “Candlemass? What are you talking about? He pulled the sword! No one else did.”
Lot’s gaze focused perceptible dislike on Ector. Dubricius stepped in the way, hands upraised. “But we must have time for,” he gestured to the kings, “all to adjust to this new…” a gesture toward Arthur competed the sentence.
Ector’s mouth closed slowly as his brow lowered in annoyance.
“And,” Dubricius continued, “our new king must be accepted by the rulers of this land or he will not get very far.” His eyes remained steadily on Ector, who had several rounds of thought cross his face before he relaxed his stance and stood back.
Dubricius turned. “Lot, Uriens,” he pulled aside the flap to the pavilion and gestured toward the outside, “let us make arrangements.” Arthur stepped back toward his father, feeling his hand settle on his shoulder as the kings came forward and passed Dubricius on their way into the darkening sunlight of the late afternoon.
“Just wait in the churchyard a moment, please,” the archbishop said to Ector as he held open the door for them. He found one of the young church boys waiting outside and said to him, “Run and fetch Helene.” Then he turned a raised eyebrow toward Sir Ector. “A little patience will help us here. Help,” a flick of the eye indicated Arthur, “all of us.”